Since the Korean academic calendar goes from March to March, the students at ECC are all about to move up a grade. Most students seem excited because in Korea age is a big deal; the older you are, the more respect you get. Nowhere is this mindset more apparent than with the kindergarten kids. They are about to go to elementary school and based off their discussions I discovered the process of getting into a good elementary school in Seoul is a lot like getting into a good college back home. First they apply, then they take tests, then they get accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. Apparently there are a lot of politics that goes into the admissions process, including bribes and grandfathering in less deserving students based on family ties with older siblings. When the students all found out which school they would be attending, they either shared their good news with the class or sulked and looked for sympathy because they didn’t get accepted to the school their parents wanted them to go.
This intense time in the life of a Korean kindergartener came right as their graduation ceremony approached. I didn’t have a kindergarten graduation. I didn’t have an elementary school or middle school graduation either. My first graduation came when I was 18 and finishing high school. To say that my high school graduation and this kindergarten graduation were similar would be like saying North and South Korea are similar just because they both have the word Korea in their names. This kindergarten graduation was more like a variety show put together for the parents who wanted one last photo op before their babies were no longer babies. Each of the five classes performed a play and sang songs. Mercury, the class I teach, acted out “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” that story about hardworking ants and a playful grasshopper that is supposed to teach kids to work hard so they don’t die of starvation come winter.
After the play, Mercury class did a rendition of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” Why? Your guess is probably as good as mine. The kids had been singing that song in class while they were doing their workbooks for the past month or so but I didn’t know it was for graduation. I just thought they learned random American songs from commercials or something else playing on TV. They knew all the words and even had choreography. I’m beginning to think Mercury might have a few students become new members of NSYNC and the Spice Girls.